ARLINGTON, Texas — Everything was set for the Dallas Cowboys to make a deep postseason run without reaching the conference championship game and end the franchise's drought of playoff appearances.
The Cowboys enter the postseason with a 12-5 record for the third consecutive season. NFC's no. 2 seed and gained glory NFL A high-scoring offense (29.9 points per game), Dak Prescott leads the NFL in touchdown passes (36), CeeDee Lamb leads the league in receptions (135) and the league's only perfect record at home (8-0). Green Bay advanced to the NFC divisional round with a 48-32 victory against the No. 7 seed Green Bay Packers on Sunday evening.
“What I was zeroing in on was that I thought we were in a position where everyone in this room thought we could take this thing to the playoffs and go as far as our dreams take us.” Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said postgame. “It's a very surprising one for me because I've been involved in sports, period…I know how disappointed everyone is.”
Dallas finished the regular season with a dominant +172 point differential at AT&T Stadium, and it seemed inconceivable that they would stumble against the bottom team in the NFC. Instead, they became the owners of the largest regular season home points. The only team in NFL history to lose a playoff opener at home. They trailed the longest (52 minutes, 8 seconds) in all of their regular-season home games, an NFL-low 44 minutes and 36 seconds. The dissonance between the Cowboys' performance throughout the year and what they did on the field against the Packers in the postseason left Jones reeling, declaring it the most painful playoff loss in his 35 years of owning and running the team.
“It seems painful because we all had such high expectations and faith in this team,” Jones said. “We thought we were aligned and in great shape, and that didn't happen to us. … I know where the responsibility starts and ends. I know that clearly. But that's not the point. The point is I'm disappointed by everybody.”
Green Bay's 48 points are the most points the Cowboys have ever allowed in a postseason game, so questions naturally arise as to how that happened.
“I didn't see that coming,” Jones said. “If we got 32 points, we know how we got them and when we got them, but if you told me we'd get 32, you could have really told me we'd have won it. So, there's a lot of things to think about, but I'm not doing that, coach or I don't reflect on any of that. We're surprised we're sitting here this weekend without another game.”
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The most important topic for Jones to reflect on is the state of head coach Mike McCarthy. Dallas has at least 12 wins in three straight seasons under head coach Mike McCarthy, going 12-5 each year since 2021. It's just the second time in franchise history since 1992 that the Cowboys have matched their 1990s dynasty run. -1995 in which they won three Super Bowls in four seasons. McCarthy is the first Cowboys head coach to accomplish this feat.
However, McCarthy's Cowboys became the first team to win 12 games in three straight seasons and fail to make the conference championship in any of them. Despite several high-profile candidates such as Bill Belichick, Jim Harbaugh and Mike Vrabel, Jones feels no pressure to make an immediate decision on McCarthy. Jones said he did not know when he would sit down with McCarthy to fully review the 2023 season.
“The only thing I feel right now is that we didn't go forward this week and I'm not thinking about that,” Jones said. “I know how to do that and handle it all. They're not high-pressure situations, coaches. I put a lot of (weight into that decision-making process) today. I put a lot into all of us. (In the regular season) I weighed it in a lot of ways.”
Jones allowed Jason Garrett to coach for 10 seasons, nine full campaigns without reaching the NFC title game. He admits that strategy didn't work.
“I don't know about that, but I know we didn't get it Super Bowl,” Jones said. “So, what I was doing all those years wasn't working. So we'll look at it from that perspective.”
When asked about his job status moving forward, McCarthy expressed his disappointment and frustration at the loss.
“I think the biggest thing is, you know, we're disappointed,” McCarthy said postgame. “I got a whole team in the locker room and it hurts. I don't think I'm past the end of this game.”
Prescott, who became the first quarterback in Cowboys history to lead the NFL overall in passing touchdowns in 2023 while compiling a 105.9 passer rating, went to bat for his head coach in the postgame. He is set to receive a $59.5 million cap hit in 2024, the second-highest in the NFL behind Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson's $64 million. After the team trailed 27-0 in the second quarter, he tossed two interceptions, including a 64-yard pick-six and three garbage-time touchdowns. He finished 403 yards on 41-of-60 passing.
“He (McCarthy) was awesome,” Prescott said postgame. “I don't know how they can be, but I understand the business. So, it has to be about me. I had the season that I had because of him. This team has had success. Because of him, they have. I understand that it's about winning the Super Bowl. That's what this league is about. The quality and definitely the quality of this place. I get that but I'll add myself to the list in that regard.”
Prescott's teammate and 2023 second-team All-Pro left guard Tyler Smith said their faceoff Sunday had nothing to do with the way he and his staff prepared them during the week.
“I love Coach McCarthy,” Smith said. “I think we did everything we could do. He was there right away preparing. He was there for us about the details. It was a lot of preparation that every other guy took on personally. I feel like he took care of us. We didn't change anything, we didn't try to do anything crazy. We just stayed with ourselves. We put it in. They (the Packers) played great football today.”